I’ve been in Vietnam for about 10 days now, traveling from the northern border with China past Hanoi to Saigon, and then further south near the Cambodian border. Although it lacks some of the trappings of Thailand, like many English speaking people, going on the trail that I’ve been on is relatively difficult – this is clearly a country with a very developed tourist infrastructure and an enormous population that relies entirely on income from tourists. So what you’ll see are a lot of hustlers on the street with their tricks, trying to sell you this or that. Not quite as in your face as Cambodia where people will literally chase you down the street, yelling at you to buy their garbage for astronomical prices, but this is a country that you’ll pay 200-500% of the real price for everything if you haven’t traveled extensively, speak Vietnamese, or are traveling with a Vietnamese person. I’ve been to all of the surrounding countries in the region and I’m sure I’m still paying too much. But that’s the price you pay when you go to a new country and don’t speak the language.
Speaking of the language, I’ve been devoting about an hour a day to learn the basics – hello, thank you, please, ordering food, counting to 20, etc. My experience in China – starting from when I couldn’t speak the language, up to the following years where I’ve spent a considerable amount of time and effort refining my language skills has taught me the impact of speaking to people in their native language. That is, people treat you totally differently. In China people show me great hospitality and generosity, but I can see the difference in how they treat me as soon as I speak to them in Chinese. It’s the same way here, even if it’s only thank you. Making this small effort shows that you appreciate and respect other cultures and are willing to come half way to make a connection with people. And that, to me, makes all the difference.
I’ll expound on these thoughts and add some more (lets say, actually about Vietnam) in an upcoming post.